The Historical Museum of Villele

The Historical Museum of Villèle

The Museum of Villèle, created in 1974, is located on a huge colonial estate in the Saint-Paul hills. Rich Creole landowners Henri-Paulin Panon-Desbassayns (1732-1800) and his wife Marie-Anne Thérèse Ombeline née Gonneau-Montbrun (1755-1846) built the main house.

The museum is a heritage site. It highlights the prosperity of a well-known landowning family who influenced the history of La Reunion in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was an era when the development of cotton, coffee and sugar cane plantations was at its height.

Madame Desbassayns is an emblematic and controversial figure of Reunion's history, who managed the Villèle estate with a firm hand. The estate relied on servile labour born on the island, or taken from Africa, Madagascar and India. From the beginning of the 19th century to 1848, over 740 slaves worked on the plantation. After emancipation, and until 1974, various descendants of the family managed the estate.

Today, the Villèle estate is still haunted by the memory of the legendary Madame Desbassayns who watched over the estate for so many years. The Villèle Museum interprets the history of a planter dynasty, and the broader history of Reunion Island society.

The House

In the former masters’ house, after the Pondicherry colonial style, visitors can choose two trails. The ground floor is organized into seven rooms. It presents the family life of La Reunion's high society in the eighteenth century, despite later modifications to the house. The furniture belonging to the family is placed in its original positions. Other pieces of furniture or decorative art (acquired later) complement these collections, including a remarkable collection of "blue and white" porcelain.

The first floor is a temporary exhibition space for themes linked to the Desbassayns plantation and to the broader history of plantation society in La Reunion. These exhibitions also illustrate the different cultural influences which have contributed to Creole identity

The Villèle Museum has showcased local artistic talent such as Georges Armand, William Zitte, Antoine du Vigneau, Claude Berlie Caillat, Ann Marie Valencia, Gilles le Trionnaire, Nelson Boyer and Yves Puylaurent. It also exhibits Indian Ocean art, such as painting by Tingatinga from Tanzania, Makonde art from Mozambique, or madhubani drawings from India. These exhibitions link with historical subjects like the slave trade, indentured labour, servile labour conditions, religious observance and links with ancestral cultures.

Other buildings on the Villèle Museum estate also examine social organisation on the plantation.

The Slave Hospital

A modest building houses the former hospital for slaves. Their names, age, functions and ethnic origins have been printed on the rock. The three small rooms on the ground floor regularly offer temporary exhibitions. Audio-visual works on themes linked to slavery are regularly produced on the first floor of the building.

The Kitchen

The kitchen with its impressive chimney is near the main residence. Many domestic objects are exhibited such as mortars and pestles, samovars, washbowls, coffee grinders and copper kitchen tools.

The sugar factory

At the south of the property are the ruins of the Villèle sugar factory built in 1825 and closed in 1920.
It was designed to be a model factory for the Saint-Paul district. Several restoration campaigns were undertaken in the 1990s. Although visible from the car park, visitors may only walk through these industrial ruins with a guide.

The Pointed Chapel

Separated from the museum by a main road, the Pointed Chapel dominates the surrounding countryside. It has a novel architectural form in a very finely pointed panelled roof, hence its name. Madame Desbassayns built the chapel in 1841 to evangelize her numerous slaves and to enable the inhabitants of the Saint-Paul hills to attend religious services. Inside the chapel is the grave of Madame Desbassayns, who is immortalized in marble under the curious legend "Second Providence." The amazing Saint-Michel statue in polychrome cast iron is a regular witness to contemporary religious observance including many Catholic and Hindu syncretic practices.


The Historical Museum of Villele

Historical Museum of Villèle
Domaine Panon-Desbassayns
97434 Saint-Gilles-Les-Hauts


T : 02 62 55 64 10
F : 02 62 55 51 91


9 : 30 am - 5 : 30 pm
Tuesday to Sunday